Cowspiracies about Meat Eating Environmentalists: A Critical Examination of the Environmental Vegan Movement
NICK PENDERGRAST This paper will explore the growing movement advocating for veganism from an
environmental perspective. While there has been advocacy along these lines for many years, it is clear that such advocacy has become more widespread in Australia in recent years, with a significant vegan presence at the People’s Climate Change Marches around Australia in late 2015. One factor that is likely to have played a part in this increasing mobilisation is the
popularity of Cowspiracy, a documentary that makes a convincing environmental argument for the adoption of vegan diets.
In order to explore this movement, I will draw on my experience as an activist who has
advocated for veganism on environmental grounds, as well as my sociological research on framing. In this context, framing refers to aspects such as selection, emphasis and
presentation in the message promoted. I will argue that while the environmental argument for veganism is strongly supported by scientific evidence, some of the framing of the
environmental vegan movement has served to alienate other environmentalists.
One way in which vegan activists have done this is by framing veganism as the real
environmental issue, hence sidelining and disregarding other important environmental
issues. Such sentiment is demonstrated in statements such as ‘you can’t be a meat eating environmentalist’, which was a claim made in Cowspiracy and has also been widely stated in the environmental vegan movement. While this statement has some validity, in terms of highlighting the large environmental impact the consumption of animal flesh has, it defines environmentalism in very narrow terms, focused on only one (very important) issue.
I will finish by giving some suggestions on how we as a movement can continue to make the environmental case for veganism but in a manner that is less alienating to those focused on other environmental issues.
Nick Pendergrast has had many years of experience as a vegan advocate. He has also been active in other social movements and co-hosts the intersectional, political podcast Progressive Podcast Australia (www.ProgressivePodcastAustralia.com). He has a PhD in Sociology and his thesis applied sociological theories on social
movements and organisations to the animal advocacy movement. He also teaches Sociology at the University of Melbourne and Criminology at Deakin University.